Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 17, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Families with loved ones in prison are feeling isolated, and a new initiative of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is setting out to change that.
Deacon Paulino Juarez and Deacon Louis Roche, both of the archdiocese, have headed up a new ministry that reaches out to families of the incarcerated and raises awareness in local communities of the suffering and challenges that these families face.
“I was a chaplain for 19 years, and during this time I saw all of these troubles of the inmates and their families, too, because sometimes they really don’t have any support – not just from official agencies and offices in the county, but also sometimes from the Church and their communities,” Deacon Juarez told CNA.
“They are isolated and rejected. After all of these years, we decided to do something to support these families and create a place where they feel welcomed,” Juarez continued.
The new program, which is part of the Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, was launched Jan. 12 with a blessing which took place at the pastoral center of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Hollywood.
The parish’s associate pastor, Fr. Jeff Baker, led the blessing and opening ceremony for the Ministry of Assistance to the Families of the Incarcerated. The program reaches out to families in the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.
According to Deacon Roche, the ministry takes place every Friday, where families of the incarcerated are welcome to seek any kind of aid. Usually, these families are referred to the ministry from other parishes or chaplains, but they do not have to be Catholic to participate in the program.
“We provide these families with food, clothes, resources as far as getting them identification cards and getting them medical help. Some people need help with substance abuse, so we are trying to pair these families with resources that they need,” Deacon Roche said.
“We are seeing these people face-to-face and aren’t just giving them a number to call. We are trying to take people from beginning to end and making sure we see results. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, and getting these people what they really need,” Roche continued.
In addition, Juarez said that part of their goal is to “break the cycle.” Because some of the inmates have children, the ministry is also trying to put the kids through school, so they have better opportunities in the future.
Both deacons have found that the majority of these families suffer greatly from isolation and rejection, and are really looking for a community of support.
“The day that we did the opening, one of the mothers of a man who had just been sentenced to the death penalty shared with me her experience of going to his church with her daughters. When people realized who she was, they moved from the pews,” Juarez said.
“They really feel not welcomed, and this was the kind of experience that they had on a daily basis. We want to stop that – we want to create consciousness within the community that these people are suffering, too.”
Roche stated he believes that “It’s part of our responsibility to take the needs of the people to church. We want to make progress and to make sure these people are getting what they need,” Roche said.
People of faith, especially Catholics, have the responsibility to put their faith into action, Juarez noted. When suffering people in the church community feel like outsiders, then he said it becomes the Christian’s duty to help them.
“The Gospel – the Good News – is for everyone. This is what Jesus did – he looked for people on the outside,” Juarez said.
While the LA ministry has only been running for a short time, the deacons have seen an overwhelming response, saying there is a universal need for this particular service.
“We would like to invite more dioceses into this ministry. We just started, but we already know that in every parish there are families who are in this situation,” Juarez said.
“There really is a need for this ministry and to take sensibility to the community that these people exist, that they are suffering, that they are our brothers and sisters, and we should do something for them.”
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